Former state employee pleads guilty to embezzlement

A former employee of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) pleaded guilty to embezzling from the state, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and EGLE Director Liesl Clark announced Wednesday. 

Joseph Pettit, who was charged earlier this year, pleaded guilty to the following Tuesday afternoon in Ingham County Circuit Court:

• Two counts of embezzlement over $100,000, a felony punishable by up to 20 years and a fine of up to $50,000 or three times the value of the money or property, whichever is greater.
• One count of uttering and publishing, a felony punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

In Michigan, any entity that wants to drill or operate any type of well has to apply for a permit and post a conformance bond with the Oil, Gas, and Minerals Division of EGLE. When the owner of the well changes hands, the original owner gets the bond back. 

As an EGLE employee, most recently as an environmental quality specialist, Pettit was responsible for completing the process of releasing bonds back to companies and facilitating the transfer of bonds back to the original owner. Instead, Pettit created fake vendors and diverted these funds to bank accounts that he supplied for these vendors. Pettit worked at EGLE from 1996 until January of 2020.

EGLE leadership became aware of potential discrepancies in September of 2020 and immediately contacted Michigan State Police, which conducted the investigation.

“This plea brings us one step closer to securing accountability in this case, and therefore, justice for the people of Michigan,” Nessel said. “State employees serve the many operations that keep Michigan running for our millions of residents. Abusing that responsibility will not be tolerated by my office.”

“There are no winners here, least of all Michigan EGLE’s 1200-plus public servants who exemplify the highest standards of ethics and are disheartened to learn a coworker violated those principles,” Clark said. “We are doing all we can to prevent any reoccurrence of this type of incident, including strengthened internal financial controls that provide greater checks and balances against fraud.”

As part of the plea, Pettit is expected to serve prison time, which will be determined at sentencing. He will also be responsible for full restitution, which totals $855,690.

He is scheduled to be sentenced November 17 at 9:30 a.m.


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